Baptism is not very striking to the human eye. In fact, it is so unimpressive that most religious organizations relegate it to the “nice but unnecessary” category. A truckload of rationalizations and justifications have argued it off of the essentials list. Could such a simple act really be all THAT important?
God has a different way of seeing things, and we must seek to look at everything through His eyes. John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3), and the crowds responded in large numbers. Jesus introduced a new authority and another element. Peter pronounced as much on the Day of Pentecost. Not only was there forgiveness but also the gift of the Holy Spirit was part of the package. How did one receive such a precious gift? Repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ were the instructions that day (Acts 2:38), and no one has changed the formula. That does not seem so insignificant.
John’s baptism intruded in the early days at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-28). Apollos was an educated man who knew the Scriptures and the way of the Lord, presenting them convincingly. He just had one flaw in his presentation. He was familiar only with the baptism of John. When quizzed, the Ephesians admitted to being unfamiliar with whether there was a Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). They were baptized again. Hmmm, unimportant? It hardly seems so.
History records people being baptized in unexpected places (Acts 8:26-39) and at inconvenient times (Acts 16: 25; :33). There is a sense of urgency attached to this simple act that magnifies its significance. Jesus joined belief and baptism in His plan of salvation (Mark 16:16). Dare any human change His words? Anyone who dismisses the practice must take up the issue with the risen Lord.
Repentance is almost universally accepted as essential to salvation. Faith is logical, as well. But baptism? It seems so…what…illogical? Perhaps it is a wrinkle that God included to see if we really trust what He has to say rather than how we feel. Naaman might fill in some details for us right here (2 Kings 5:1-14). When Biblical teaching clashes with our common sense, which will we believe?
There has never been a word more misused and abused than the word “church.” We say that we are going to church. It is used to describe a place of bricks, boards, stained glass, and if we are lucky, padded pews. We visualize a pulpit up front on a raised platform. It is a theatrical arrangement, and we wonder why people expect entertainment? The reality of “church” is an entirely different matter.
Jesus promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18). Whatever this thing called “church” was to be, it would be constructed by the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was to be based upon God-given information, and it was His to erect. The divine carpenter would oversee this project. A building was not what he had in mind. No, He had something more enduring planned that even death can never conquer.
Not only is Jesus the builder, He is the buyer. There can be no question about ownership, because He settled that issue once and for all. As we gaze at the cross, we see the cost. The crown of thorns gashed His scalp. Nails were driven through His hands and feet. All of this came after they had pulverized His back by scourging, and before they stabbed His side. It was a blood bath and more. It was a purchase. The church is His, and the transaction was made on a cross (Acts 20:28).
His great love for the church is communicated through the imagery of husband and wife (Eph. 5:22-32). It is more appropriate to describe the church as “her” than “it.” She has a unique relationship with the risen Christ, and He has tremendous loyalty and devotion to her. His concerns run deep for her holiness and He has done everything conceivable to make that possible. We may live in the moment, but the Lord has a view to eternity when it comes to His church.
She is unique. There may be imitations, but there is a single genuine church. It is described as His body (Eph 1:22-23), and there is only one (Ephesians 4:4). He is her head, and she is subject to Him being comprised of those whom the Lord added when they are saved (Acts 2:47). Indeed, Jesus builds His church (1 Peter 2:4-5). It is a spiritual house not a physical one and saved souls are His building blocks. That ought always to permeate our thinking and meaning when we use the word, “church.” We assemble in a building. We ARE the church.
He may have been considered eccentric by modern standards, in fact his contemporaries probably saw him as such, but he was a man for the moment. John the Baptist was sent by God to pave the way for the long anticipated Messiah. The Lord did not send a politician or a philosopher. He sent a preacher. He wasted little breath on the insignificant. His message was kingdom rattling. Repent and live like you have. Something new is at hand, and you had better rearrange your minds and lives to match. The world braced for the kingdom of God.
The Son of God arrived on a mission trip. He left His home in glory to seek and save the lost. His proclamation echoed John’s. Repent. A different way is imminent which brings a unique approach. He came to live it and to preach it. He explained through parables that which would be distinctive. It transcended human thought and visible expectations. The new kingdom demanded elaboration, and He showed up to provide it. God had but one Son, and He was a missionary.
The crucifixion and resurrection punctuated the uniqueness of this kingdom. Thoughts were flung beyond the boundaries of the visible. He rose from the dead and commissioned a small band of followers with a worldwide task. Preach! They did it with zeal. That tiny group evangelized the world. They were threatened, beaten, stoned, chased and imprisoned. They never stopped. Death only inspired the living. The opposition could lock them up and chop off their heads, but they could not stop them.
Now the message is in our hands, and mission fields beckon. This morning we welcome Jerry Hogg and Larry York to share news of the work in Africa. They will help us kick off our summer of evangelism. Memorial Day has always been the unofficial beginning of the season, and we join in with new enthusiasm to seek the lost. We will close out the summer with a trip to Guyana and Suriname, South America right after Labor Day with the same purpose. It is our season of evangelism.
Exotic journeys to Africa and South America are exciting, but our main responsibility is right here. Not everyone can go to a foreign field, but we can all do something locally. Rocky Mount, Nashville and the surrounding areas just outside our door are filled with the lost and lonely. Now is the time to reach out to them. Pray. Talk. Focus. Share what you believe. A heart without Jesus is a mission field, and a heart with Jesus is a missionary. Let’s make this our summer to change someone’s eternity.
Sunday, May 24th
Brother Jerry Hogg will be teaching our Bible Study at 9:00 am, and bringing the lesson during worship. He has been a missionary in South Africa for over 40 years. Traveling with him is brother Larry York, from the West End congregation in Knoxville, TN, one of the congregations that supported Jerry in his missionary work for over 10 years. Larry is a retired insurance executive who helps support mission work overseas. We welcome them both to Westside this Sunday.
How easily we slip into our judicial roles as we act as judge and jury of the wicked. We see the sin, condemn the sinner, grab a rock and toss it. Another lost soul is stoned into eternity and the self-righteous move on without a thought of their own guilt. Maybe that is why we do it. It is much more difficult to introspectively analyze than it is to criticize.
Jesus exposed the fraudulent. The woman was as guilty as…well…sin (John 8:1-11). She had been caught in the act, so there could be no denial, and it was dreadful. Adultery! There is very little that humans deem worse than that, and the law had spoken. Stoning was the sentence, and they were more than ready to start throwing. A few minutes with the Lord changed all of that.
They left with their proverbial tails between their legs. Why? No one, not a single solitary one of them was qualified to hurl that first rock. Jesus invited a look, not at everyone else, but at themselves. That ripped the mask off of their charade. Sinlessness is the only qualification, and none of them met that requirement. Confrontation with that fact eliminated every potential stone thrower. It always will.
The question remains unanswered as to where the other guilty party was. Adultery takes two. Where was he? The Law said that both should die (Leviticus 20:10). Why did the accusers not drag him in as well? That mystery lingers, but Jesus made His point. He sent the woman on her way with clear instructions to cease the foolishness. He did not minimize her sin nor did He condemn her. He simply told her to stop it.
Jesus signed His own death sentence with that declaration. If no one had ever sinned before, that one would have sent Him to His grave. Someone had to die for that one. He would. How intensely God wants to forgive rather than condemn. A life was demanded and provided. The just is the justifier (Romans 3:26).
Now, back to us. Where do we fit into this picture? The adulterous woman? The condemning scribes and Pharisees? The Lord who refused to join in the condemnation? Jesus came to be light. The very next verse says so. Our steps are shady without Him. Our judgments are faulty. Our hearts and minds remain unexposed. He reveals to each of us all that is within us. We will see ourselves as we really are, sinners in need of forgiveness. We should think about that the next time we reach for a rock.